By AHUVA BALOFSKY—
Speaking at a pre-Christmas gathering of the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum in Nazareth on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for the soldiers who have enlisted in the Israeli army (IDF).
Also in attendance were Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis, Mayor of Nazareth, Ali Sala and prominent Israeli Priest Father Gabriel Naddaf. Naddaf has long been a supporter of the Jewish state.
“We are brothers, partners – we Christians and Jews and Druze and Muslims defending the State of Israel,” The Jerusalem Post reported Netanyahu’s words. “Our country is founded on the idea of a Jewish and democratic state, and in this country, relations between Jews and non-Jews should be in harmony, based on mutual respect, based on equal rights, and the most important thought is also equal obligations, that’s what’s reflected here.”
For Netanyahu, Israel Today reported, the connection was personal. “On the first of December, I took my own son, Avner, to the recruitment center in Jerusalem. He volunteered to become a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. The next day…Father Naddaf took his son, Jubran, to the recruitment enter in Tiberias. He volunteered to become a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.”
Naddaf is an advocate of Christian national service to the State. Under his leadership, the average rate of Christian recruitment has grown for 30 to 150 persons per year.
Netanyahu also commiserated with the persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East. He blamed the “rising tide of Islamic fanaticism and extremism” for the increased suffering of Christians both in Israel and throughout the region.
“The shrinkage and disappearance of entire Christian communities, communities that were there thousands of years, since the birth of Christianity, entire communities that are deleted in one fell swoop, brutally, savagely,” Netanyahu said. “They are expelled, they are persecuted. Sometimes those who manage to escape – their fate fortunate that they at least live, and others suffer from a terrible fate.”
He pointed to Israel as the only country in the region where the Christian population had not collapsed. Since 1948, he estimated, it had actually quadrupled. Netanyahu vowed to continue to protect Israel’s Christian residents.
“I promise we will support you and we will act harshly against anyone who will harass you, and that Israel is a nation of laws,” Netanyahu said to the Christian audience. “We will not accept any attempt to violate the law. We will exploit to justice all those rioters and agitators, and we could not be the State of Israel as an island of religious tolerance.”